BEAR ALLEY BOOKS

BEAR ALLEY BOOKS
Click on the above pic to visit our sister site Bear Alley Books

Monday, February 20, 2017

Comic World - 25th Anniversary

A long, long time ago in a town not so far away, I edited a magazine called Comic World, which began 25 years ago and ran for about three and a half years. The first issue was born into the world on 21 February 1992 and was originally called Comic Collector, a title it was saddled with for seven issues before I managed to persuade the powers that be that having "Collector" in the title was limiting the potential market.

At a meeting I argued my case with no empirical evidence that this was true. It was just a gut feeling. Although I was never privy to sales figures, the circulation must have been on a steady slide downwards as I was informed that the pagination and the budget was to be cut.

Issue 8 was to be the issue we took to UKCAC, so I changed the logo... and earned myself a bollocking for blithely changing the title before anyone else in "the trade" was informed—our distributors would normally have demanded months of preparation for a title change to make sure that shops and other outlets were informed.

It wasn't the first (or last) mistake I made. Sometimes, on those odd occasions I look back, I wonder how on earth we managed to get as far as 43 issues... or even one issue as I had zero experience and the first issue went from conception to being sent off to the printers in under two months.

I'd left a job in London in September 1990 and had spent over a year researching and writing a book (The Mushroom Jungle) and various stories and articles; I wasn't selling enough of the latter to pay for the time spent on the former, and by the end of 1991 was struggling to pay the rent on the shitty flat I was living in despite it being dirt cheap. The flat was above a newsagents and I'd pop down every morning to pick up any mail and, on one particular Friday, a copy of the Essex Chronicle "on tick" as I hadn't any money to pay for it.

My intention was to look in the jobs section and use what loose change I had (two ten pence coins) to phone for application forms. On this particular Friday morning, I received a letter from a publishing firm in Colchester which appeared to be offering me the chance to write for an upcoming new magazine. Could I give the editor a ring?

We didn't have a phone in the flat, so I used the phone at our local pub as my contact point. So instead of using my last 20p to find proper work, I risked it on a call to Colchester. The call resulted in being asked to meet the group editor on Monday. I had to borrow the train fare but it was worth the trip as, by the end of the meeting, I had been offered the job of editor.

This was a week or two before Christmas and the first task was to find some writers. The publisher had heard of me through the owner of ACE Comics which I had been visiting regularly for five or six years at that point. I knew the staff well, and had written for their magazine After Image in 1987-88. The editor was Lance Rickman, and he was the first person I hired to write for the new magazine, along with Norman Wright and Paul Gravett. I believe the group editor had already spoken to Mike Conroy and I somehow made contact with Dave Dickson, who was a music journalist with an interest in comics.

Other contributors to early issues included Phil Hall, Mike Kidson, Simon Jowett and the indefatigable Alan Woollcombe, who was to become the magazine's most prolific contributor. I got to know of Alan early in the process of putting the magazine together—my memory may be playing tricks but I think he was recommended by someone at Marvel UK. We met up ahead of Angouleme, which we were both planning to attend and I believe we were staying at the same slightly-out-of-town hotel.

There's a lot that could be written about Angouleme: how one of the Comic Collector advertising staff almost caused an international incident over a typo... how daytime drinking got the better of me and brought a couple of muddled, incomprehensible interviews to a hasty end... all I can say is that I was celebrating getting the first issue written and had left it with our designer before heading out to France and was giddy with all the excitement and lack of sleep. Oddly enough, my heavy drinking didn't get a mention in the report written for issue two.

It isn't my intention to go into the complete history of the magazine—maybe one day when I've finally severed my connections with the publisher—but I'm going to take this opportunity to say a big hello and thank you to all the writers who worked on Comic Collector and Comic World. The magazine didn't pay brilliantly, so I tried to build up a small team of regular contributors, which meant that writers like Alan, Paul Birch, Richard Hill. Steve Cook—and latecomer Warren Ellis—contributed to most issues and were guaranteed a cheque at the end of the month. Again, a more comprehensive list of contributors will have to wait for another day... you know who you are and I hope you have some fond memories of the magazine.

I was very proud of Comic World, but sometimes you have to put your favourite things away and move on with your life, which is what happened with Comic World. When it folded in 1994, I put whatever copies I had in boxes and shoved them up in the loft. We were working on two other monthly magazines at that time and there wasn't much time for sentimentality... and, frankly, we didn't have the space with two of us working from home.

When Mel and I moved a few years ago, everything from the attic was chain-ganged out and squirreled away in the new house. A few years later I rediscovered five boxes filled with copies of various issues.I listed these for sale back in 2011 and sold quite a few copies. There are still some left, many of them in low numbers. But if you want them I'll be happy to accept £3 a copy including p&p for one issue, add £2 for each subsequent issue (so 3 issues is £7; 5 issues is £11, etc.).

I hope some of you will enjoy seeing the covers again and some of you younger readers might enjoy seeing what was going on in the world of comics twenty-five years ago.

(* Our column header shows two early designs for the magazine by Graham Baldock, who did such a fantastic job on the magazine over the years that I only sacked him once... only to be told the next day by my boss that I didn't have the power to sack him. We worked on a few different titles over the years and, although he retired to Shropshire some years ago, we had a little get-together in 2015, which is when the above photo was taken.)

7 comments:

Alan Woollcombe said...

Thanks for the kind word, Steve. I loved working for Comic World - even when. on one occasion in those pre-email days, I ran hopelessly behind on a deadline, worked overnight and drove from Kingston-on-Thames to Colchester to get the copy in, a distance of about 100 miles/two hours. As I recall, I was greeted at the door by a slightly bemused editor - not sure if he believed my cover story of always wanting to visit Colchester...
And yes, I probably was recommended via Marvel UK (I was popping in there most weeks to do interviews) and we probably did meet at Angouleme. (Unrelated story: I answered an appeal by Paul Gravett for anyone driving to the festival to give a lift to any car-less creators, and he linked me up with Ron Tiner and Arthur Ranson, who spent much of the journey (500 miles) arguing about the Comics Creators Guild. On the way back, Ron offered to do some of the driving - and duly thrashed my poor little Metro (freshly inherited from Granny) to within an inch of its life, with Arthur and me clinging on for dear life...)
I probably enjoyed writing for CW more than any other publication: Steve was a great editor and amazed me with the amount of work he did. And of course I have him to thank for the single greatest interview I ever had, when one afternoon he rang me and politely suggested I head over for the Fleetway building right away as Carl Barks was in town...
Happy days indeed.

thebristle said...

“...he linked me up with Ron Tiner and Arthur Ranson, who spent much of the journey (500 miles) arguing about the Comics Creators Guild...”

Top stuff!

james newell said...

I was a reader from issue 1 and loved the magazine, still have ever issue and still read some of the interviews that I did not bother with at the time as my knowledge of comics expands.

It was a very bright and exiting publication, also made a few connections in the small press world through the announcements section.

Was saddened when it folded, comic international picked up the slack a few years after, but it was no Comic World!

Phil Rushton said...

In a fair world you'd be a millionare by now for all the invaluable contributions you've made to collecting comics in the UK Steve!

Kid said...

Looking at your cover galleries, I think I have #1 and #30, which are the only two issues I remember seeing. 25 years ago? Hell's bells, where did the time go?

JOHN MOSBY said...

I guess I'm officially old, but I have good memories of Comic World and writing for it fairly regularly at that time...

Graeme Neil Reid said...

I was on a camping holiday when I discover issue 6 of Comic Collector in a tiny newsagents in Stirling. Quickly became my favourite magazine. Always enjoyed pouring over the pages and it was my constant companion during my college years. Along with CI it helped me contact various small press creators and artists who are still pals to this day. A sad day when it finished.